Next Sunday, a group of men and women will compete for The Fittest Man and The Fittest Woman titles. Elite 2015 organiser and contestants share their journey to fitness.
Dumped for not being hot enough
Even at 28 now, she can still remember clearly the insults hurled at her since she was 12 years old.
"When I took the school bus, the skinny girls at the back would take a ruler to measure two seats and ask me, 'Is this enough space for you?'" recalls sports and fitness photojournalist Cheryl Tay.
When she was 16, "my ex-boyfriend said he dumped me because I was not pretty or hot enough".
Miss Tay can recall a litany of nicknames, from the time she was in primary school till she was in university.
She was constantly teased despite her involvement in sports.
"Because I was so used to it, I would play along."
But she developed a long struggle with eating disorders and self-esteem issues when she hit 18.
"First, I went on an extreme exercise routine. I ran 20km every morning, 6km in the evening and did one hour of stationary cycling or kickboxing.
"I was eating only one or two apples a day."
In two months, the 1.67m-tall girl went from 65kg to 45kg. And she would scratch herself as punishment for gaining weight.
Then, she stopped exercising and the yo-yo weight-cycle started.
She recalls: "I got burned out. I got so sick of running, I didn't want to run any more."
She gorged herself on the food she had been denying herself, putting on almost 20kg in a month.
Unable to stand the weight gain, she loaded herself with diuretics and laxatives. She also tried every kind of diet pill, slimming centre and meal replacement to shed the weight.
"I tried everything but exercise. I was basically trying to look for an easy way out," says Miss Tay, who estimates that she spent $20,000 on these weight-loss methods.
For four years, it was a debilitating struggle.
Things began to change in 2013, after she hired a personal trainer. Lifting weights, she noticed her body change.
"I was no longer skinny or fat, I started to get muscles and looked more toned."
Her attitude to food also changed and she no longer deprives herself.
Now, her fitness repertoire includes running, Muay Thai and yoga, among others.
And she is organising Elite 2015, a competition to find the fittest man and woman in Singapore.
As a way of letting go of her days of starving and extreme exercise, earlier this year, Miss Tay threw out the clothes she wore when she was 45kg, describing the experience as "liberating".
"I have finally accepted myself. I like my body for what it is and what it can do for me," says the woman who can easily do 55 squats in under a minute.
"I can be myself now. If I am not comfortable with my own body, I will never find myself attractive to anyone."
Miss Tay hopes to reach out to others going through similar struggles.
She says: "I am pretty sure there are a lot of people out there, especially young girls, who are going through the same thing. They just don't talk about it."
The competition, she adds, will go to show that anyone can take up fitness, and eventually try for the title of Singapore's fittest person.
Looking back on her journey, Miss Tay grimaces a little at photos of her at her fattest and her skinniest. But she says she wants people to see the change.
"The difference is I am happy now."
This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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